Monday 11 November 2013


I was in Lindisfarne, last autumn; I never tire of it, really,  a site  of Celtic Christianity,  before Rome, the GlobaCorp of its day, took over everything. 


I like the causeway, the isolation caused by tides,  I like the idea of hermits, of being reclusive; an island dweller, I am a bit reclusive, myself.

And there's something about these ancient, sacred sites.  Doesn't matter about beliefs, some places have just become weighted down with imaginations and superstitions and with admiration for the albeit ruined constructions.  If I didn't live where I live - itself a historical site of - what - worship, piety, magistracy, these old manses doled-out far more punishments than blessings - in 1797 mine was a new manse, is the longest continuously inhabited building in the parish - anyway, if I didn't live here, on the shore, then a holy island, Iona, Lindisfarne would float my domiciliary boat, tick my habitation boxes.

We know Religion Incorporated has always adapted the premises of its competitors, adapted the festivals, too and early open-air Christian altars - before there were any built churches - were just modified Pagan sites; in a land littered with pleasing Norman churches few are aware of the pagan symbology carved into old church timbers by carpenters still revering the Green Man, at least as much as the Man from Galilee.  The sites, therefore, I believe, have a significance that - although we cannot understand it - speaks to us, in some strange way.

There's a tiny, holy island a few miles from me; like Lindisfarne, it is Christian, seventh or eighth century and approached by a tidal causeway.

 It looks tranquil but this is where the North Atlantic fetches up; in summer the energy,  the ions boom off the ocean, frazzling your brains in the nicest possible way;  in winter it is the Devil's maelstrom.
I am sure these few stones are neatened, homogenised by the tourist people but even so, fourteen, fifteen hundred years ago, humans like us  chose to live and worship in this Godforsaken place, probably didn't have an i-thing between them, hard not to feel a bit feely, when you visit.

A few years ago, one summer's afternoon I was just sittting on Birsay with my friend Dick, enjoying the light and the Atlantic breeze.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a minibus, across the causeway, on the mainland, disgorging a dozen or so people and them walking across the causeway to what we call the brough.  A few minutes later, in the chapel ruins, one of them started singing a strange song, in a strange tongue.

Fuck me, I thought, looking at Dick, the loony on the 'bus, even here there's one,  I think we both felt a mixture of species' embarrassment and irritation but within seconds the whole dozen minibussers had joined-in.  I had never heard anything even remotely like this song, these harmonies,  they were perfect but alien.  I scanned a lifetime's  musicological data banks - nothing;  it was hair on the back of the neck stuff and after a few minutes it was over,  the ensemble drifting back to the minibus and away.

Later I phoned the tour operators who ran the 'bus.  They're from Georgia, y'know, back in the USSR and they're singing the sacred sites. Sacred sites of where? Everywhere. Where everywhere? Everywhere in the world.  They're probably still at it, on a magical, mystery tour.    

I think as far as I have travelled along that route is to visit most of the English cathedrals, old and new and  a lot of the henges.  There's more such here, where I live, than anywhere else; rings of stones, chambered cairns, ancient causeways,  they're still finding them, finding an ancient, incredible knowledge of astronomy interwoven with Leylinery and with murderous, shamanistic powerplay.  Don't know that I'd take my guitar to them and sing Hey, Mr Tambourine Man but who knows.

The sacred site thing, anyway, is banished and sterilised by the ghastly old biddies of English Heritage/National Trust who tyrannise visitors to places like Lindisfarne.  When I was last there, Mrs Ishmael's grandson, Jack, five and a featherweight, was climbing over the tumbled blocks of the ruined priory.  Screech, howl, tut-tut-tut went the trouty old custodian.  It's alright, I said, lifting him down, he's only a kid, he's not doing any harm.  Oh but he is. No, but he isn't.  Yes, he is, it is strictly forbidden.  He's not much heavier than a couple of seagulls and anyway, children have been climbing over these rocks for centuries, who in the name of God, are you, to stop them, now?

She spoiled the visit for me completely, it's what custodians of anything like to do, that's why they do it.  And so I got on my new i-pad, looking for a dog, a stand-in for little Buster.  I was on the English mainland, surely I could find a nice little dog in need of a pampered, luxurious home, maybe one who was star-struck, seeking global fame as a blog-dog.

I went online to Dogs Trust, Darlington, a hundred miles or so south.   There were a couple of wee dogs who we could've cared for.  I explained the situation over the phone.  I was on holiday, far from home, if I came down to-morrow and we liked a dog, could we take him;  I had a reference from the local 'vet and the local SSPCA inspector  knew us well, knew our home, our grounds, their safety and suitability;  among dog-scroungers, in short, I was the elite.  Yes, of course, said the lady on the phone, come on down.  The next day we hit the A1 M;  it was a shit journey, two and a half hours of rainy, muddy traffic, wipers metronoming in vain, and on entering the dog shelter we were greeted by a handful of the most obnoxious people I have ever met, anywhere.  They weren't remotely interested in re-homing dogs and there was no way on Earth that they would let me take one away, no matter what I had been told by-one-of-my-junior-colleagues, sneered one ghastly little fairy, about twenty.  I felt like telling him that we had been homing rescue dogs for longer than he'd been alive, the dirty little shit-shuffler.  But I didn't.  We just fucked off.

I've encountered more of the same in the burgeoning animal welfare charity sector.  They're cunts, all of them.

Back when my daughter, for shame, showed her Beardie, Barney, at Crufts, I briefly met some dogbreeders and I wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire in my drawing room, any of them.  Barney came to us, eventually, his fashion accessoryship no longer required.  And I never forgot the whole process, he cost getting on for a grand but in the end was deemed worthless.  Breeding more dogs when so many already need homes, seems to me it should be against the law.

So, although we had decided we did want a dog again,  there didn't seem any acceptable way of acquiring one.

  But then there was a conversation. 
There was a conversation on a previous thread.  mr tezza asked me and no, I hadn't found a dog yet.  The dog shelters, especially the Dogs' Trust, are run by imbeciles and the breeders need killing, painfully, ideally after genetic modification. And I told him, mr tezza, this wee story that had also been hindering me, dogwise,

A little story. I was walking through Alnwick, one day, with my first Yorkie, Rocky and an older gentleman stopped to fuss him. We chatted and he mentioned that he had recently lost his own Yorkie. You not getting another one? I bluderingly enquired. He gave me a long, ancient look, a mixture of sorrow and weary impatience. I'm seventy-two, he said, and these blokes live to be sixteen; if I had another dog, what would happen to him? I froze-up inside at the realisation that you can be too old to properly take on such a responsibility.

I'm a long way off that age but I'm not one of those swimming, cycling, sparkling Saga people either. I normally accomplish more than healthy people but that's bloody-mindedness and not predictable longevity; I have been hesitant, therefore, mindful of my deeply moving Alnwick experience, to buy a brand new dog but it looks like it's a brand new dog or no dog. He or she, like us, will just have to hope for the best. At least home will be like home again. 

But that little cyber-interchange  rattled me.  Even laid low by illness, I am passing capable; surely I can find a wee dog, somewhere.  And so it was, not a charity, an individual, too ill to care for her dog and needing a new home for him.  And guess who he looked like?

I spoke to her daughter on the 'phone. I told her my tale and she told me her's and her mother's  and I said I would try to collect him next weekend.  He's almost in England, so it's two ferries and hundreds of miles through Ayrshire, Perthshire, the dark Highlands and the boggy  Badlands of Caithness.

Stuff may happen to delay or  even  prevent the journey but already Mrs Ishmael is looking for Tweed overcoats to fit a Yorkie.
His name, I am told, in memory of his person's happy times in the Inner Hebrides, is Harris.       



Mike said...

Well there's good news Mr I. My little pug "Turtle" sends his best.

Caratacus said...

There's something about living on an island which subtly alters ones psychological setup for the remainder of one's days. I had the great good fortune to live and work on Holy Island (the other one, off Arran) in the early 70s and my awareness of weather, tides and the night sky has never left me. Neither has the cheerful response of the shopkeepers in Lamlash when asked for an out-of-stock item - like bloody flour - "Och but we're waiting for the puffer ..."

Well done with Harris too. I'm only in my 60s and the same thoughts have occurred to me. When my old chum finally decides to go off in what, I am certain, will be his final blaze of glory I will probably not share my humble lodgings with another.

jgm2 said...

My wife went to school with a girl whose parents hail from Lewis. Her friend moved up there 25 years ago and has been there ever since. When we used to live in Fucking Scotland we'd go over a couple of times a year to visit. It's a whole nother world. There isn't so much of the nasty anti-Englishness that typifies the much of Fucking Scotland although they have, from their Old Sarum-sized electorate returned an SNP MP for several years so perhaps I'm simply not coming into contact with them. But to your point about standing stones and cairns and shit. Place is strewn with them.

It kind of gives the lie to global warming. Fucking Scotland and Northern England and Wales and Western and Northern Ireland are largely bleak, desolate shitholes. Practically uninhabitable and uninhabited except for the lack of ambition and inertia of those who happen to be born there. Even 21st century man with all his fertilizers and machines can't get fuck all to grow there. Trees on Lewis look more like bonsai plants than the towering oaks of Sussex. Yet we're to believe that 2,000 and more years ago the land was able to support people with the spare time to build religious gathering places? Even today I'd, like most of the inhabitants, be content to stay indoors and drink myself to death.

It simply must have had a more temperate climate 5,000 or so years ago. It simply is not credible that folk were living there engaged in agriculture if the weather was the same as it is these days let alone, we are told, 5 or 10C colder.

You don't find intricate buildings and stone circles built by the sparse inhabitants of the tundras of Canada and Siberia because they don't have the fucking time or energy left after scratching a living from one day to the next. The UK must have been warmer and more temperate 5,000 years ago than it is today.

Alphons said...

Good luck in your endeavours mr. ishmael.
As a Yorkshire man I can only admire your choice.

call me ishmael said...

They've had fish, mr jgm2, in the many coastal settlements and oats and turnips, deer and other game inland and the lowlands and the Central belt are, in places, as fertile as the Vale of Evesham, there are vast tracts, though, which are as you say - I simply cannot understand why anyone lives in Caithness but they do, in Wick and Scrabster and in wee hamlets, girdled with shrivelled trees, providing a windbreak. Perthshire, on the other hand, really is the best part of England, lush and moist and beautiful; Inverness is a sparkling jewel and all along the Great Glen to the West Coast the valley is heartstoppingly beautiful.

The stones around me are older than the pyramids and maybe they stand here, still, because there has been little develeopment over five thousand years - what there is in the way of roads, for instance, is down to the Navy in both the wars; we weren't on the national grid until the 'sixties, this is, in the best possible sense, a primitive place; nothing is allowed to be built on the skyline, nothing, that is, apart from spluttering windmills but otherwise the landscape is little changed since the Ice Age. I have trees and shrubs and hedges and plants but this is very unusual; population-wise this Highlands and Islands area is much like Cornwall and North Wales used to be - the lunatic fringe, peopled by incoming quality of lifers, full of shit and conceit and I-Know-Bestism, desperate for a rusty LandRover and a couple of goats, Christ, they are fucking awful; the RSPCA should come up here and shut the fuckers down.

I mentione din Down To The Sea In Ships that once the land was densely aforrested, travel possible only by coastal waterways, maybe it was the lack of treee up here which facilitated the stone circlings, that and the specialnesses of island life which his majesty caratacus mentions; the native, chilled Canucks do cross-fertilise, here and they had their own totemic structures, it's just that they were made of wood instead of stone.

There is something in what you say about changing climate, about seasonal exhaustion; buildings from the Modern Age, or instance, are as drab, unembellished, feauture- and colourless as you could imagine, low, squat and thick - the weather of course necessitates this, as does the relative abdsence of timber, glass, paint and, well, everything really, struggling thus, to keep a heavy roof over their heads, how then did ancient islanders build these bloody things?

It is part of the mystery, not only how they did it, but how they knew to do it. Five thousand years on, year after year, on certain days only, the Sun strikes through an opening and illuminates the quarters of the Dead. How, wiping their arses with heather, did they know that stuff?

call me ishmael said...

It's more habit than choice, mr alphons. Some time ago a friend urged us to give a home to a Yorkie whose person had died from cancer. Whaaat? One of those yappy little bastards? He was bold and funny and charming; we've had them ever since. For years I fancied myself as Ishmael Walks With Three Dogs, now I walk with none. Change gotta come.

Thanks, mr mike, hope you're coping with all that smoke, down there.

Mike said...

Lot of smoke over Sydney in the past 10 days. But in NSW for the last 2 days record rainfall - most in 25 years in places. Its not rained for a while and the golf courses need it. Back to hot sun and blue skys today. I sound like a weather girl.

Anonymous said...

Good news!

The old gentleman you met in Alnwick no doubt spoke with the most profound common sense Mr. Ishmael, but life can seem bleak enough at times if we allow it. Life is for the living and i'm sure you'll give wee Harris a great life up there,

Best to you and yours


Anonymous said...

By the way, regarding the ancient culture stuff - it has been put forward that when Skarra Brae was settled the climate was very much milder in those parts and the people only moved away when huge clouds of ash from a volcano (probably in the vicinity of Iceland) caused a succession of poor summers and failed Harvests.

There are remarkable similarities between some of the key 'architectural' elements of Skarra Brae and those found in certain ancient Mediterranean sites.

Furthermore, traces of Tartan textiles and bagpipes have been found in ancient Asian sites the noo!


call me ishmael said...

Thanks, mr tezza. I am sure, too, that mr jgm2 will feel pleased to be vindicated in his climatology.

DtP said...

Am so sorry blogging when absolutely trolleyed - have reread stuff and the Usual Suspects thing after your gorgeous Sunday Supplement (!) was a bottle of gin induced. Well, a bottle of dar rum first but a good dam fist of gin and my Oirish Grandad Tommy's dictum from being a landlord (and getting twated eyebrow wise, mum coffin dodging and court case as victim came to light - not a fucking word!) was 'don't drink gin'. Wise words indeed.

Not being unchivalrous to take the piss out of dressing the poor pooch up in eponymous slave labour is beyond my humour but there was a Daschaund on stilts the other day which had me thinking of Esther Rantzen.

I've fostered kids man and size don't matter - on the contrary, smaller they are the more fucked they came from. I nearly threw a fridge at a 12 year old girl - marvellous stuff. Had a lad for 6 years later and just pushed each other into wheelie bins and hedges, women and doorways:young lads are comedy, young girls think they fight dirty.

I do not believe any conversation between you and a National Trust warden, if mildly vexed, would end as they expected!

Good luck with Mr Harris and good luck you and yours.

To Capitalists @ Work to retain my Question Time trophy - hmm...

Your writing is sublime, Sir


call me ishmael said...

I know what you mean, mr dtp, about anthropomorhising the wee beast but that is by definition what we do with pets. And it's fucking windy up here, he needs a big warm coat.

I have a Harris Tweed jacket, myself; it is the most expesive garment I have ever owned and I love it.

Ease yourself off the booze, mr dtp, and you'll find your own sublimity.